To View This Figure Please Refer To The Printed Edition

Passion Blog Pro Review

Entrepreneurship Guides

Get Instant Access

Figure 7.1. Brian Godbold. Photograph by Norman Watson.

current students included Sally Tuffin, Marian Foale4 and Ken Russell.5 For two years I studied for the National Design Diploma with fashion as my principal subject. Our painting classes were often taken by Peter Blake6 and Quentin Crisp7 was the life model. He was very popular because of his ability to remain perfectly still for hour after hour, and because he never took breaks as other models did. Amongst my fellow students, the two who seemed least likely to succeed at the time, were Ian Drury8 and Peter Greenaway.9 After my first year, Daphne Brooker left to become Head of Fashion at what was then Kingston School of Art and I continued my studies at the Royal College of Art.

head of the Fashion School at Kingston School of Art, later Kingston Polytechnic and later still, Kingston University, from 1962 until her retirement in 1992, she was very largely responsible for establishing a prototypical model for design education in the UK, and there are several generations of designers at all levels within the industry who acknowledge her as their principal mentor.

4. Marian Foale and Sally Tuffin. 'Students of fashion at Walthamstow School of Art, Foale and Tuffin both studied at the Royal College of Art, which they left in 1961. They set up as partners in a private dressmaking business and their chance came in 1962 when their clothes were bought by the London store, Woollands. Their looks aimed at the young ready-to-wear market and Foale and Tuffin were at the heart of the London fashion revolution. Based on Carnaby Street, they and their designs reflected the fashion influences of the 1960s. Beginning with Pop Art, especially that of Hockney, then Op, they moved through an Art Deco phase towards the romanticism of old lace.' McDowell, C. (1984) McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion, London: Muller p. 142.

5. Russell, Ken. 'British director Ken Russell was 42 when his film of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love placed him in the ranks of movie directors of international stature. For more than a decade before that, however, British television viewers had been treated to a succession of his skilled TV biographies of great artists like Frederick Delius and Isadora Duncan ... he is the only British director in history ever to have three films playing first-run engagements in London simultaneously: The Music Lovers, The Devils and The Boyfriend. Lyon, C. and Doll, S. (1984) The MacMillan Dictionary of Films and Film makers, London: MacMillan, p. 472.

6. Blake, Peter, painter and graphic artist, London since 1956. 'In style and manner, Blake had a culture break-through to population millions and was able to speak in visual terms in a voice that was at once direct, without art complications, and "popular".' Williams, S. (1996) in J. Cerrito (ed.) Contemporary Artists, Detroit: St James Press pp. 130-1.

7. Crisp, Quentin. Commercial artist, artist's model, broadcaster, wit and gay campaigner, author of The Naked Civil Servant, London: Cape, 1968.

8. Drury, Ian. 'The Zenith of Drury's musical career, New Boots and Panties, came in 1977, when youth was being celebrated amid power chords and bondage trousers - he was 35 at the time. Lead singer of the 'Blockheads', television and film actor and late-night television show presenter. Larkin, C. (1995) The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, London: Guinness Publishing Ltd., pp. 1274-75.

9. Greenaway, Peter, film director, painter and writer. Films include Zandra Rhodes, 1981, The Draughtsman's Contract, 1982, A Zed and Two Noughts, 1985, The Belly of an Architect, 1986, Fear of Drowning, 1988, Drowning by Numbers, 1988, The Cook, The Thief, His

My main recollection of the two-year period at the Royal College of Art from 1963 to 1965 is one of working extremely hard. Once again, I found myself amongst formidable colleagues, this time Ossie Clarke,10 Zandra Rhodes11 and Bill Gibb.12 Walthamshow had taught me how to draw, and had shaped my appreciation of things creative whilst the Royal College developed a competitive edge, an ability to deal with the highs and lows of life in fashion. Something about being a student in the Royal College of Art fashion school under the headship of Janey Ironside made one incredibly tough. Then, as now, a great deal of the projects of which the course was comprised, were actually competitions and our work was the object of a great deal of media attention. I was successful in a swimwear project, where my bullseye swimsuit received coverage in a large number of magazines, and in a second-year project where my 1940s inspired coat was featured on the front page of the Evening Standard. During the first year, Ernestine Carter13 had sketched one of my garments for the Sunday Times, which caused great consternation amongst second- and third-year students, but I was not always so successful. I can still recall my feelings when, after working for weeks on a garment for a competition, Ossie Clarke arrived the evening before the deadline, cut out a dress and made it in half an hour. It looked as if it had never been touched by human hand.

Wife and Her Lover, 1989, Prospero's Books, 1998, The Baby or Macon, 1993, The Pillow Book, 1996.

10. Clark, Ossie. Raymond Clark, known professionally as Ossie, studied at Manchester School of Art from 1957 to 1961. He went to the Royal College of Art on a scholarship and graduated in 1964. His design career began with Alice Pollock's Quorum in the 1960s heyday of London fashion . . . His clothes had everything for those heady days when the jeunesse de vie of the Royal College seemed able to break all the rules and canons of taste, secure in the knowledge that they would receive ever-increasing praise from the press. McDowell, C. (1984), McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion, London: Muller p. 108.

11. Rhodes, Zandra. 'Zandra Rhodes designs romantic and fantastic clothes which cannot be mistaken for the work of any other designer Her fabrics - chiffons, silks, tulles - are hand-printed with squiggles, zig zags and stars and float like butterfly wings. She has given us ruffled tulle crinolines, glamorised punk, uneven hems, bubble dresses - all with the strong Rhodes signature'. McDowell, C., (1984), McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Design, London: Muller p. 229.

12. Gibb, Bill. 'Educated at the Fraserborough Academy, Gibb enrolled at St. Martins' School of Art in 1962 and then went on a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1996. He soon became the golden boy, Fashion's Hockney, adored by all for his talent and charm.' McDowell, C., (1984), McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Design, London: Muller p. 147.

13. Ernestine Carter entered fashion via the post-war exhibition, 'Britain Can Make It', which lead to her fashion editorship of Harper's Bazaar, then Women's Editor and Associate Editor of the Sunday Times. She received an OBE in 1964 and published several books on fashion including With Tongue in Chic (1974), 20th Century Fashion: A Scrapbook 1900 to Today (1975), The Changing World of Fashion (1977) and Magic Names of Fashion (1980).

During vacations, I worked in the design department of Marks & Spencer, where Hans Schneider had been head since 1936 and at the end of my second year of the, then, three-year course, he offered me a permanent position. This did not appeal to me at all; like many of my contemporaries I was convinced that you had to be a star by the time you were thirty, otherwise you really had not made it. I did feel ready, though, to venture out into the world, so, with some scholarship money I had won, I bought a three-month return ticket to New York.

With little more than ten dollars a day, I had to find a job quickly, so I bought a copy of Womenswear Daily and answered an advertisement for a designer at a company called Jovi. I got the job and although the company was very small to begin with, it became an overnight success and I found myself designing a range of clothes bearing my name, Brian G for Jovi. The exhilarating thing about working for the newly discovered junior sportswear market was producing a completely new collection every six weeks, for clients such as Macys, the New York department store. Never particularly interested in 'one-off', or elite products, I derived enormous satisfaction from seeing racks and racks of my designs in different colourways, ready for dispatch and I was fascinated by the idea that vast quantities of people would be able to enjoy well-designed clothes - this was something quite new, particularly in the United Kingdom. Within a few months buyers were queuing for the collection and scarcely a day went by when it was not featured in Womens-wear Daily. The experience of Brian G for Jovi opened my eyes to the huge potential of the mass market and the revolution that was about to occur in fashion.

With the success of Brian G for Jovi I felt fairly confident that my education was complete and I decided not to finish my degree at the Royal College of Art, but I did return to London and in 1967 I became head of the coat and suit design room at Wallis. Jeffrey Wallis was the great high-street entrepreneur of the late 1960s and it was a privilege to work with him. One of Wallis's greatest successes was the Pick of Paris range, which featured inexpensive couture copies and it fell upon me to go to Paris to select coats from the Autumn 1969 collections. This was a widespread and quite legitimate design practice; we attended the shows as buyers and developed the garments we chose back in London, modifying the cut, fit and finish to suit our market and price. This we had to achieve in three or four weeks in order to get the garments in store for the release date and to secure newspaper coverage. Most of the 1969 coat collections were short. Every other manufacturer dutifully complied with the general trend, but I put a few long coats into the Wallis collection. There was a huge amount of publicity and within days they sold out. Jeffrey Wallis demonstrated his great entrepreneurial skills by halting production on everything short and turning it over to the longer styles. Wallis had never experienced such a successful season; we put every fabric we had into Maxi coats, as they were christened, and they all sold out. What lead me to go against the grain, and how did I know that long would beat short that season? The answer is that the prediction of future trends is an instinct and the career of a designer is made or broken on a hunch about the length of a coat.

In 1969, I left Wallis, to go to an American company manufacturing in the UK but my instinct served me less well on that occasion, and they went out of business within a year. After a few months spent teaching with Daphne Brooker at Kingston, I went to Cojana, an upmarket tailoring manufacturer whose biggest customer was Harrods where I stayed for four years until I heard that Monty Black,14 the entrepreneur who had built Baccarat from nothing in three years, had purchased the moribund reversible coat manufacturer Weatherall. I was immediately struck by the idea of revamping this old-fashioned company which had, for years, been selling blue and brown reversible coats, so I wrote to Monty Black who then offered me the job. By updating the fabric and style, we produced a new classic, the camel and white reversible which was still worn twenty years later.

Cojana and Baccarat made excellent products but no longer exist. This, I believe, is because they did not fully understand how design could differentiate them from the competition. I have always felt this is an English disease and one of the reasons we have been unable to grow great brands like the Italians.

This brings us to 1976, when for the second time in my career, I was offered a position at Marks & Spencer, but this time as head of the Design Department, since Hans Schneider had retired. At the time, Marks & Spencer was certainly not noted for design innovation, and most of my contemporaries were horrified that I should work for a volume chain store. But my career up to that point had done everything to strengthen my belief in the future importance of the mass market, and I was convinced that at Marks & Spencer there was huge, but as yet untapped potential. It is at this point in my story, then, that the extraordinary creativity, the appetite for innovation and originality unleashed during the 1960s feeds directly into national culture, via Britain's biggest retailer. Not only had the 1960s created the art school culture which, I believe, revolutionized attitudes to design, they spawned a

14. Monty Black worked with Jeffrey Wallis at Wallis shops and then went on to start his own business, Baccarat, where he hired designers like Bill Gibb, John Bates, Gina Frattini to design collections (a very new practice at the time). The company made beautiful tailored garments with high work content, like leather trims. Following the success of this, he bought Weatherall, the reversible coat manufacturer, which was in the doldrums.

generation with levels of disposable income sufficiently high to sustain an unprecedented market for products.

However, it would be misleading to suggest that when I joined Marks & Spencer, the Design Group was poised to capture the new market. The team I inherited consisted of around a hundred pattern cutters, machinists and so-called designers, but the level of creativity and competence was modest. The practice was to promote machinists to pattern cutters and thence to designers. My first objective was to reform the department and to raise the level of design competence. In this, thankfully, I had the support of the board of directors, which was at the time telling the suppliers to improve their own design facilities in order to improve their products and meet our quality standards. The Design Group's method of working would inevitably have to change if this was to happen; we became less concerned with designing in detail on behalf of the suppliers, and more concerned with fashion prediction, colour and product coordination. The move to a more strategic role for design meant the building of a more concentrated team of higher calibre designers. In 1980, a joint ladieswear project heralded our long collaboration with the Royal College of Art, and we also undertook projects with Kingston and Brighton Universities and Shenkar College in Israel.

In 1985 Peter Salisbury, later Chief Executive, recommended greater concentration on research and development, separating pattern technology from design and moving it to the Technical Executive. In the same year, with the addition of menswear to my portfolio, I appointed the celebrated designer Paul Smith as a consultant. By this time, each area of the design department (Ladieswear, Childrenswear, Menswear and Lingerie) had a small but qualified team of designers, with a high level of experience in industry and forecasting. From 1986 a mode of operation was established whereby each area produced a seasonal design brief, a 'bible' to be used by the buying groups to give direction to the suppliers, covering colour fabric, print, pattern and styling. The buying groups were concerned with product areas such as ladies' knitwear or mens' trousers, not with 'lifestyle' areas such as casualwear, formalwear and so on. Since a buying group's annual turnover could be well in excess of £100m, the coordinating function of the design group was, and is, critical.

Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s the success of Marks & Spencer, and the Design Group seemed unstoppable. We acquired homeware in 1990, packaging and graphics in 1995, launched the Marks & Spencer magazine in 1987, were the first chain store to shoot promotional campaigns using supermodels in 1994; we became accustomed to nominations in the British Fashion Awards and won the 'classic' section twice, in 1994 and 1995. The dedication of the April 1996 issue of Vogue to high street fashion and the cover the following month showing our £21 shantung skirt photographed by Mario Testino and styled by Lucinda Chambers signalled that mass-market design had come of age. By 1994 we had 610 stores worldwide and a group turnover of £5.9 billion. As Divisional Director of Design, my portfolio represented a business worth £3.5 billion pounds.

The downturn throughout 1999 in Marks & Spencer's business has led to massive and continuing change, not just cosmetic but reaching deep into fundamental attitudes and approaches. In the second part of this chapter I will give my view of the issues challenges and opportunities, which I consider to be key to the volume retailer today and in the coming years.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Dress Making

Dress Making

Rock your personality in a dress you made yourself that reflects who you are, not what a department store thinks you want. Discover The Beginners Guide to Making Your Own Dress. You do not have to wear off the rack dresses any longer. You can make your own fashion statement on the world.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment